More and more, group leaders who want to help pilgrims get the full pilgrimage experience are faced with overcoming a fixation with images and technology that completely overshadows experiencing the reality of setting off on a journey, meeting new people, exploring different cultures, and entering into prayer.

People at audiences and Masses with the Pope, see the pope through their camera lenses, cellphones, and iPads. The same thing happens at Christian holy sites around the world.

Best approach is to encourage pilgrims to live the experience and, if the experience is so powerful, then try to immortalize it with an image, but don’t start off with the image.

Other modern obstacles to an authentic pilgrim experience are Facebook or other social networks and the general ease of communicating with others anywhere in the world.

Being connected through the electronic device while traveling takes out attention for the experience of travel. It connects us to our lives at home, not what we are experiencing on the trip. Why travel just to be back home? 

We want to share our experience yet oftentimes preoccupation with sharing on social media obstruct a our ability to be present and engaged in the moment. We are present but absent if we are not completely focused on the here and now. That kind of absenteeism that’s becoming very pronounced, even in our pilgrimages, is prevalent in our busy lives.

We go on a pilgrimage to escape the chaos and to reconnect with ourselves, with family and friends, with a destination, a culture, but most of all with God.

Let’s give ourselves and those traveling with us the honor of being in the moment. Let’s give God our full focus and attention while on a pilgrimage. 

People’s minds, hearts, and souls need time to move from thoughts of work, home, or school. We need time to decompress from our hectic existence and become attuned to prayer, fellowship and reflection which are the gifts of being on a pilgrimage.

Preparing pilgrims in advance of the trip for the pilgrimage, informing them about what to expect and asking them to focus on being present, in the moment and on the trip will bring about huge blessings for the entire group.

All people need a break from the daily grind now and then.  If people aren’t traveling for work, they usually either are “running away from something or searching for something”, a priest friend recently said.

The key difference between leisure travel and a pilgrimage is the search for a spiritual encounter.  Religious experience has a corporal dimension. When people are in search of a deep religious experience, the body somehow needs to be involved.  So setting off from home and going on a pilgrimage is quite natural, not only for Christians, but also for members of most other major religions.

Christian pilgrimage is all about encounters! Group travel enables us to share our encounter with other seekers and believers, but also being to be encouraged by them or learning from them how to move closer to the encounter with God. Unfortunately, though, too many people today focus so much on getting to the holy places and sharing what they are seeing on social media that they lose sight of the fact that a pilgrimage is a journey. The road is the pilgrimage and it prepares you for the encounter. While a pilgrimage is a purposeful break from one’s normal routine, it’s not a break from rules and good manners. It’s not a break from patience, tolerance and acceptance.   

A pilgrimage is putting order into your life, going back to put real order in your life — order in terms of your relationships with other persons, order in terms of your relationship with God.  A pilgrimage is an opportunity to recover that harmony that has been lost through everyday life. That’s why going on a pilgrimage is a deeply religious experience if we allow it to be.